Warrior or Wife
by Lyn Randal
(Harl. Hist., $5.50, PG) ISBN 0373-29437-9
***
Randal has chosen a unique setting for her debut novel Ė Rome in 106 A.D. It is a time of Roman vs. Christian gods and it is a time when gladiators were put into the arena to kill or be killed. Generally, gladiators were men or dwarfs. But there were a few women. One such gladiatrix was Ledia.

The story opens as she is fighting a dwarf and her ex-lover is watching from the stands. Ledia is really Lelia, a daughter of a Senator who disowned her when she refused to marry an older man and announced she was pregnant. After being homeless and starving, a woman took her in. She then stole the child, leaving Lelia with nothing to do but sell herself as a slave/gladiator in order to earn money to try to find the child.

The child was the son of Marcus Donatus, the son of another Senator. He loved Lelia, but had promised himself to the Emperor as a soldier. When he left, he was unaware that Lelia was carrying his child. Now, two years later, Donatus is back from the war, has taken his seat as a Senator and is determined to find Lelia and marry her. He has been carrying a torch for her since he left.

Lelia has hidden the fact about her son from Donatus, yet she agrees to marry him on the condition that he pays for her friendís release also. She also promises him an heir, knowing that his true heir is out there somewhere. Donatus does not trust easy. His mother abandoned him when he was just four and yet, he loves Lelia. The story unfolds as they try to live together and get past the hurts they have inflicted on the other.

There is a view of ancient Rome that is not often seen, as they travel to one of the agricultural estates in the countryside. They spend their time together, yet Lelia denies Donatus her bed, adding to the tension in their relationship. When someone tries to poison and then stab Lelia, the search is on for a killer and a motive.

This is written as one would imagine the spectacle of Rome would have been like. There are hints of court intrigue, the varying roles of men and women and of the secretive nature of the Christian religion that is just coming into being. Generally the story moves along at an acceptable pace, even though some of the motives and underlying issues are less than clear at times.

Leliaís character could be stubborn and unforgiving while Donatus was often brooding and so full of guilt that he was indecisive. Yet, they were courageous and together there were connections and sparks. This made both characters likeable at times and disturbing at times. I struggled through parts of the story where I didnít really like either of them. The romance of their servants hinted at more than was ever delivered, leaving me sad that this part of the tale was not more developed.

Warrior Or Wife is an acceptable first novel, with many interesting parts and a setting that adds to the tale. It also has some freshman mistakes, but Randal is an author with definite potential.

--Shirley Lyons


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